MERIDEN — The WNBA draft is an exclusive club. Only 36 players in the world are selected to join the top level of women’s basketball.
Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella said Meriden’s Damika Martinez, his prized recruit four years ago out of Platt, should have been among Thursday night’s selections at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“I was disappointed,” Bozzella said Friday. “I’m not in the WNBA, but being in this profession as long as I have as a coach, there is no doubt in my mind that Damika Martinez is a WNBA player.”
Martinez was also disappointed in not hearing her name on Thursday night.
“I was a little upset,” Martinez said. “That was the reason why I didn’t want to get to excited about the draft. I didn’t know what outcome would be. But I kept my composure. I didn’t let it affect me that much. I know I still have a lot ahead of me. I know I still have chance.”
Bozzella said he knew Martinez was a special player the moment he first saw her play as a high school star at Platt. In the midst of an 11-year head coaching stint at Iona College at the time, Bozzella succeeded in bringing Martinez to the New Rochelle, N.Y. campus.
“We saw how hard she worked and how dominant she can be,” Bozzella said. “Midway through her freshman year at Iona she really started to hit her stride.”
Martinez wound up leading the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in scoring that freshman year and was named the league’s Rookie of the Year.
It was merely a sign of things to come. Martinez led the conference in scoring and was named MAAC Player of the Year in each of the next three seasons. She signed off as the league’s leading women’s basketball scorer of all-time.
Bozzella, meanwhile, departed to his alma mater Seton Hall after Martinez’s sophomore year. Out of respect to the new Iona coaching staff, Bozzella kept his distance.
“I tried to give her space,” he said. “I’m proud of the player she became. Once in a while I sent her an encouraging text. But I watched many a game online. I was just so thrilled with the player and the person she became. She showed what a great team player she was throughout her career. I am proud that I recruited her.”
In addition to Martinez, Bozzella was also disappointed that two of his Pirates weren’t selected on Thursday night.
On Friday, he was still trying to come up with reasons why Martinez’s name wasn’t called.
“Maybe the team’s lack of success this year hurt her,” Bozzella said. “She didn’t get to play on a bigger stage. Maybe her size. But I don’t think anyone can measure Damika’s heart. She will get that chance and she will proved herself. She will work hard until she steps on that floor as a WNBA player. She won’t stop until that happens.”
Indeed. Martinez said not being drafted will only motivate her to play harder.
“God has a plan,” she said. “I know His plan is for a reason. I honestly think this is another way to motivate me. I know the next time I step out on the floor, it’s going to be a battle.”
Martinez said the next step is getting into a training camp to earn a WNBA contract.
“It’s a possibility that I can still make a WNBA roster,” she said. “If that doesn’t work out, I will headed overseas.”
Bozzella said if Martinez chooses to play out of the country she will be successful in taking that avenue as well.
“She would have a productive career overseas,” he said. “She can score. They want people that can put the ball in basketball. She has that skill. She’s the best finisher I have ever coached in my 22 years.”
So it was no surprise to Bozzella when Martinez became the MAAC’s all-time leading scorer in her senior season. The 5-foot-7 guard finished with 2,581 career points.
“The MAAC is one of the most storied mid-major leagues in the country,” Bozzella said. “For her to have the scoring record out of a league that has produced so many great players says a lot.”
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